U.S. WikiLeaks soldier Manning to learn his fate on Wednesday

FORT MEADE, Md. Wed Aug 21, 2013 4:59am EDT

FORT MEADE, Md. Aug 21 (Reuters) - Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier convicted of the biggest breach of classified data in the nation's history, will be told on Wednesday how much of his life will be spent in a military prison.

The 25-year-old private first class could face up to 90 years for turning over more than 700,000 classified files, battlefield videos and diplomatic cables to the pro-transparency website WikiLeaks, in a case that has commanded international attention since 2010.

The judge hearing Manning's court-martial, Colonel Denise Lind, is due to read his sentence at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT). Prosecutors have asked for 60 years, while defense attorneys this week pleaded with Lind not to "rob him of his youth."

Manning was working as a low-level intelligence analyst in Baghdad when he handed over the documents, catapulting WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, into the international spotlight.

In July, Lind found Manning guilty of 20 criminal counts including espionage and theft, but not of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge, which carried a possible sentence of life in prison without parole.

The classified material that shocked many around the world included a 2007 gunsight video of a U.S. Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Baghdad. Among the dozen fatalities were two Reuters news staff, and WikiLeaks dubbed the footage "Collateral Murder."

The case highlighted the difficulty of keeping secrets in the Internet age. It raised strong passions on the part of the U.S. government, which said Manning had put American lives at risk, and anti-secrecy advocates, who maintained Manning was justified in releasing the information.

A U.S. rights group has said Manning should be a candidate for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Manning's trial at Fort Meade, Maryland, home of the ultra-secret National Security Agency, is winding down as the United States continues to seek the return of Edward Snowden. The former NSA contractor who disclosed details of secret U.S. programs that included monitoring the telephone and Internet traffic of Americans, has been given temporary asylum in Russia.

The Guardian newspaper reported on Tuesday that British authorities had forced it to destroy the materials leaked by Snowden.

BROADER DEBATE

Manning's defense argued that his aim had been to spark a broader debate on the role of the U.S. military and make Americans aware of the nature of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to defense testimony, military supervisors ignored erratic behavior on the part of Manning which included trying to grab a gun during a counseling session.

Defense attorneys had argued that such actions demonstrated that the slightly built Manning, who is gay and was increasingly isolated while deployed to Iraq, had not been fit for duty overseas.

During a pretrial hearing, Lind reduced Manning's sentence by 112 days because of harsh treatment after his arrest in 2010. He likely will be imprisoned at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Manning pleaded guilty to lesser charges earlier this year, but military prosecutors continued their efforts to convict him on more serious counts.

Last week, Manning apologized to the court for what he had done, saying: "I understand I must pay a price for my decisions."

The Bradley Manning Support Network, a group backing the soldier, said in a statement it plans to seek clemency from Army officials after sentencing. Manning's attorney David Coombs also will ask for a pardon from President Barack Obama, it said. (Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson)

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